Dealing with Depression
My battle with depression first started when I was twenty. Battle sums its up well – I faced an enemy whose strength and determination to beat me at times were so overwhelming that losing that fight sometimes seemed inevitable. However, when I was close to giving up on myself God did not desert me.
I had not long returned from a pilgrimage to Lourdes, followed by Sydney for World Youth Day. In those summer days I had been the closest to Heaven I have ever been in my life. I had encountered Jesus in so many people – in the sick and the youth in Lourdes, in the beautiful family that had housed me in Australia, and in my fellow pilgrims whose hearts were filled with the same joy as mine. My faith burned with passion, I was so alive and I knew that our loving God was always near me. These truly marvellous experiences that I had the privilege of enjoying brought me so close to Jesus Christ; I could indeed see that He was truly the Way, the Truth and the Life.
Life was good. I had a loving family and excellent friends. I was in my third year at university and I also had a great part-time job which I enjoyed very much. For reasons that still puzzle me, around the October time I found myself in a deep despair. I cannot articulate fully what was going on in my heart and mind at this point. It was like a great darkness had consumed me. My Mum speculated that the change in my mood was a manifestation of a crash from the high of my summer. At first I thought she may be right, but then things got really bad and I knew that was not the case.
It got to the stage where I just could not find the energy, will or drive to take myself to university or my job. I didn’t want to see anyone, I didn’t want do anything that normally would have been a source of enjoyment, I didn’t want to be here any more. I began to entertain thoughts of ending my life.
I cried. I cried, a lot. Everything seemed utterly hopeless. My left arm is a testament to the pain that I was going through inside. I took solace in self-harm and have been left with a permanent reminder of those dark days. I’m not sure why I started cutting myself, but I do know that at that point it made me feel better, albeit temporarily. It helped me cope with the frequent numbness that seemed to freeze my soul as it caused me to feel something. I wish I had never done it. It took me a great time to stop always wearing long sleeves. I used to wonder when I met new people if they noticed my scars and if they judged me. Now I hope if they do notice what they see in front of them is a strong young woman who got through a rough time in her life.
Eventually, I made an appointment with my doctor. This was both the most terrifying and most liberating experience of my life. Telling someone that I didn’t want to be alive anymore was incredibly difficult, but I was making a bold step in taking control back of my life and looking back I’m proud of myself that I was strong enough to do that. Initially I was put on a course of anti-depressants, but my doctor referred me as a matter of urgency to a psychiatrist.
I remember waiting to go into my first appointment with my psychiatrist. My friend was texting me, making sure I was okay (I had insisted on going on my own, much to the annoyance of my family and friends). As I was waiting, there were the most piercing screams of hysteria coming from the psychiatrist’s room – out of total fear I wanted to leave, but I knew I had to stay. The screaming lady came out the room and in the most cheerful manner made her next appointment with the receptionist. She was tall, pretty and well-dressed – my jaw was on the floor, along with all my preconceptions and misjudgements.
I then met my psychiatrist - a large, cheerful Welshman who had an aura of kindness about him which was instantly soothing. He said this particular appointment would serve as an initial assessment and went on to ask me many questions trying to find the root of all my problems. There was no obvious cause. I came from a safe and loving home, my family was my world, and I had a good number of strong and healthy friendships. I enjoyed a high quality of life which, ordinarily, was a very fulfilling one.
With mental health, it is difficult not to hope that the tablets you are given will be an instant cure and normality will return. My psychiatrist told me that what I had experienced was like a great wound or trauma that would take a long time to heal and that I had to afford myself the time and patience for such healing to take place. After numerous doctor’s appointments, psychiatrist appointments, many different medications, counselling sessions and time, I started to get better.
It took me about two years to feel back to normal – whatever normal is! Like anyone, my mood will still take small dips, but if it lingers longer than what is normal then I act upon it; I look after my mental health like I look after my asthma – if something doesn’t seem right, then I go to the doctor and get it checked out. Sometimes I’m prescribed anti-depressants, but most of the time I’m off them.
For me, depression has been both a curse and a gift. It took me to my darkest days where I was in complete despair and doubted the point of myself being here, but it also taught me invaluable lessons about myself, about life and about God.
I am loved. Depression does its best to blind you to the love in your life. This is odd because when you aren’t well people around you often try even harder to care for you, to protect you and to heal you. It is only when the darkness subsides that you can reflect upon the great love that your family, friends and God bestowed upon you during your time of need. It is vital that (when you are able to) you recognise the kindness that was afforded to you when you were unwell, and to thank those who cared.
I am strong. I suffered, but I endured it and I beat it. It is through our sufferings on earth that we grow in our understanding of Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross for us. Whilst my own personal suffering will never compare to those of Our Lord’s, my small taste of such anguish and pain gave me a deeper appreciation of God’s love for us.
I need God. Just like Paul said in his letter to the Corinthians, “Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.” When it is just too difficult to keep going let God carry you. Just like an infant is held and carried by their parents, so too are we by God when our burdens and troubles are too much for us to manage alone. Let yourself be carried, nurtured and loved by He who created you, He who knows you intimately. Never give up on prayer even when it seems impossible and pointless. Talk with Him – tell Him what is wrong and that you need Him. Just as Jesus cured Bartimaeus of his blindness, have faith that He will bring you healing too.
A diagnosis of a mental health condition is not the end of the world. With time I began to understand how to manage my illness and, when things go a bit wrong, how to ask for help. I graduated from university and I am enjoying a flourishing career. I am so grateful to God for the beautiful opportunities He has presented me with in life, and for letting me know His unfailing love in both the happy times and the difficult times.
Claire Louise is a teacher in the United Kingdom. She enjoys reading, travelling, spending quality time with her friends and family and taking too many photos of her cats. Claire hopes that in her life she will bring people to know God’s infinite love.